For a quarterback to make a big play downfield they need some time. The receivers need to run their route and the quarterback needs time to find them, wind up, and throw the ball. The people that buy that time and make sure every snap doesn’t end in a sack are the defensive lineman. The top 5 defensive lineman available in free agency are detailed below.
Jadeveon Clowney - Seattle Seahawks, 27
Jadeveon Clowney was drafted first overall by the Houston Texans in the 2014 draft. He had set all sorts of defensive records at South Carolina including their sack record. Clowney played very well for the Texans, making the Pro Bowl three consecutive years from 2016 to 2018. In 2019, because the Texans were reticent to pay the massive free agency salary he is sure to command, they traded him to the Seattle Seahawks. He has had a solid, if unspectacular, season with the Seahawks and is likely to generate a lot of interest in free agency. It is doubtful that Seattle will be willing to pay what he wants long term.
Chris Jones - Kansas City Chiefs, 27
Chris Jones was picked by the Kansas City chiefs near the top of the second round in the 2016 draft out of Mississippi State. A bit of a late bloomer, he has really come on for the Chiefs since the 2018 season when he had a ridiculous 15 and a half sacks. He continued to play well in 2019, when he made the Pro Bowl, and as a defensive tackle who can really rush the passer, Jones is likely to command significant free agency interest. Because of his core role on the defense we would expect the Kansas City Chiefs to try and lock up Jones long term.
Yannick Ngakoue - Jacksonville Jaguars, 25
Ngakoue was drafted in the third round out of Maryland by the Jacksonville Jaguars and has blown away all expectations making the all rookie team in 2016 and then the Pro Bowl in 2017. As Jacksonville’s defense has taken a step back in recent years, so has Ngakoue, but he is still a very solid player overall. Given his young age and history of production expect Ngakoue to get a lot of interest both from Jacksonville and on the open market.
Arik Armstead - San Francisco 49ers, 26
Arik Armstead was drafted in the middle of the first round in 2015 by the San Francisco 49ers. He has gotten better every season but has really come into his own in 2019 under coach Mike Shannahan. Arik Armstead has been a core part of the dominant 49ers defense that has led them to their amazing 13-3 finish. Armstead and the defense have been a real part of the 49ers surpassing expectations this year. Expect the 49ers to want to keep most of their defense together, but it will be expensive given the likely interest from other teams.
Leonard Williams - New York Giants, 27
Leonard Williams was drafted 6th overall by the New York Jets in 2015 and had a great rookie season, making the all-rookie team. He followed that up with an even better sophomore season, making the Pro Bowl on one of the better defenses that the Jets have had in recent years. His play since then has been inconsistent and in 2019 he was traded to the New York Giants in a rare trade between the New York teams. After not playing in critical moments at the end of the season, such as in the game against the Eagles, many expect Williams to move on to a new team. He may sign a short prove-it style deal and look for a bigger contract in a future year.